WHY THIS NOVEL: Juliana Garnett was recommended by a friend.
She was the sworn enemy – and the woman he dared to love
Proud and fierce, Alexander Fraser fights for the lands and the title the English stole from his family–and for the Scots dream of freedom. Now he’s lost what’s closest to his heart: his younger brother Jamie, captured by the ruthless earl of Warfield. Determined to free Jamie, Alex boldly takes a hostage–the earl’s daughter Catherine. But the delicate maiden he locks in his craggy castle has more mettle than many men…and more passion than any woman he has ever known. Even as Alex and Catherine risk scandal and insurrection to indulge their desire, he knows he must someday give her up…or forfeit his brother’s life.
This is my second novel by Juliana Garnett and if her books were not oop (some are available as ebooks), I would try to get my hands on as many as possible. Both novels I’ve read so far by her drew me in with their sense for the time and history. The stories seem “real,” there is no sugar coating. Times were often harsh and required hard decisions, and therefore the characters’ plight seemed more moving and gripping even though the characters are part of a rather familiar plot for a medieval romance. The Scotsman was a joy to read.
Lady Catherine Wroth knows what her role in life is: make a favorable marriage for her father, the earl of Warfield. She knows she’s nothing more than cattle in this and that she has no choice in regard to that or other the important decisions in her life. Catherine must abide by what others decide for her no matter what her own wishes are. So when she is taken captive by a Scottish barbarian, to be exchanged for this barbarian’s younger brother who is her father’s hostage, it at first seems like she exchanged one prison for another – “a pawn in a game between two powerful men” (134).
Catherine spends the first few weeks in Scotland captive in a room. She’s allowed to read but other than her hostile attendant and an occasional visit from Alex, she has no diversion. Most of the time she’s alone. Alone with her thoughts and the realization how utterly worthless she is to her father who lets the ultimatum pass to exchange her for Alex’s brother even though Alex threatened with the loss of her virginity. And Catherine is alone with her growing attraction to the enemy and the realization that the enemy is human, too. And it is in this situation that she finally dares to – and has the freedom to – make a choice about her life on her own.
Alexander Fraser is caught between to evils: to lose his brother or to lose the woman he cherishes more than anything in his life. He is
[…] snared by his fierce desire to free Jamie and his fierce need for this woman. […] He could free Lady Catherine. And Jamie would die. Or he could hold her and pray that the earl would relent and consent to exchange hostages. And Jamie might still die. (161)
He knows that there is no future for him and Catherine with that kind of situation.
Too great is the hostility between Scots and English. Early on, there’s a scene with some Scots leaving the hall because Catherine is allowed to eat with them. It escalates after Warfield leads a brutal attack on the village near to Alex’s castle while Alex is away. Many Scots die that day.
This is months after Alex offered to exchange hostages and Warfield has yet of officially acknowledge it. The only one who tries to negotiate and get Catherine back is her brother Nicholas whom Catherine loves dearly. Nicholas is the only one (before Alex) who ever showed her affection. He even gets into trouble with their father because of their father’s relentlessness about the exchange of hostages.
The Scotsman takes place in the months leading up to the Battle of Bannockburn. The Scottish Borderlands were in turmoil, villages often attacked by both sides and burned, like Warfield did to the village near Alex’s castle and like Alex did to the villages near Warfield’s place. The times were harsh and the decisions one made had often dire consequences. Alex can’t promise Catherine that all will end well in such times and so he doesn’t say so. But he also can’t promise her that he would spare her brother should they meed one day on the battlefield. Times are uncertain and aren’t sugercoated and because of that, The Scotsman is the first book in a long time I wondered about how the HEA will be achieved.
Here’s a lengthy quote that showcases some of the things I love about Garnett’s way to write:
[Alex just demanded that Catherine swears to obey him and do as he told her to do if something happens]
Irate, she glared at him. “I was not in the habit of obeying my father, sir, so I see now reason why you wouldst think I will obey you. But”–she put up a hand to ward off his angry interruption–“as it will no doubt distract you in a fight to think I might come to harm if I do not remain hidden, I will do so–at your request.”
Outrage was reflected in his eyes, and his mouth thinned into a taut slash. “By all that is holy, Lady Catherine, if you do not swear to me that–”
“Hold.” She tightened the reins and her palfrey gave a skittish jump that removed Alex hand from her knee. She stared down at him coolly. “Do not make idle threats, Alex Fraser, for I do not stomach them well.” Pent-up anger and frustration burned her, and she returned hot stare for hot stare until he swore softly beneath his breath.
“Christ above…if ’tis what ’twill take to wrest an oath from you, I will respectfully request that you swear to me you will do as I bid you do.”
She smiled sweetly. “On my honor as Lady Catherine of Warfield and subject of King Edward, I do swear to you, sir, that I will obey your command should we be attacked.”
Resentment simmered in his eyes and tone. “If you find it that easy, I see no need for your delay.”
“Sir, I see no need for your demand, when all that ws required from you was courtesy.”
He drew another harsh breath, but an unwilling smile touched the corners of his mouth. “Check?”
An answering smile curved her lips upward. “Aye, and checkmate, sir.” (290/291)
[word in bold originally in italic]
No tossing curls or stamping of dainty feet in sight, no thought that she could help and by God she would. Instead, Catherine makes her point and gets her way in a manner I find much more appealing. I love that they use “sir” and “lady” when they talk to each other in public. They are both aware of appearances and their station. And I love that they are able to resolve a small misunderstanding by talking about it.
Verdict: I really, really liked it. (4,5/5)